Spraggy’s 5 A.M Twitter musings took a cultural turn yesterday when he lit out on a long-form tweet about what poker movies could learn from The Queen’s Gambit.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘The Queen’s Gambit’,” he tweeted. “And it’s success in captivating a mainstream audience whilst also receiving praise from the chess community for its presentation of the game. Something similar for poker seems intriguing but tough for a couple of reasons…”
I've been thinking a lot about 'The Queen's Gambit' and it's success in captivating a mainstream audience whilst also receiving praise from the chess community for it's presentation of the game. Something similar for poker seems intriguing, but tough for a couple of reasons…
— Spraggy (@spraggy) November 18, 2020
In his assessment, the problem of replicating The Queens’ Gambit for poker lies in the issue of acknowledging luck. “The Queens Gambit’s success in storytelling seems to stem from the narrative of a disadvantaged youth achieving success in a game where the sole source of her achievements [is] her talent […] There is no luck at play here.”
While this seems like a drastic oversimplification of how the series works, it leads him to pick up the issue with most poker movies that focus on competition as the motivating factor (beating “The Man”, winning the tournament). “If the final payoff, at the end of the story is acknowledged to have had a huge element of good fortune, the story isn’t as compelling. […] But to ignore it betrays the heart and soul of the game.”
After several hundred words on the subject, Marle Cordiero, his fiancée tweeted at him to go to bed. And the barrage stopped.
Come to bed plz
— Marle Spragg (@MarleSpragg) November 18, 2020
Where is Rounders 2?
It’s an interesting question. Because for something that feels like the perfect high-drama metaphor for the American dream, there’s not a lot of great poker movies out there.
Like a lot of people, the reason I got into poker was the movie Rounders. To this day, it is more or less unique in being a satisfying poker movie that feels grounded in reality.
The Cincinnati Kid is a classic, but only makes sense if you imagine everyone in the big game is cheating except the kid.
I admire California Split, but poker is a small part of the gambling shenanigans in that. Shade is a guilty pleasure but bears as much resemblance to real poker as Casino Royale or God of Gambling (both fine films in their own right, but lacking the grounding Spragg is looking for).
And those are the good ones. Lucky You does its best to be “realistic” but falls flat narratively. Deal is just The Color of Money plus cards and minus Tom Cruise. Plus it clearly peeked at the Lucky You script for its ending.
All In was forgettable dreck. Maverick fun, though hardly a great poker movie.
Even the writers of Rounders couldn’t bottle lightning twice. Their forgettable T.V. series Tilt revolved around cheating and T.V. tournaments again. And the less said about Runner, Runner the better, better.
And also how?
Spraggy is right. We don’t need a The Queen’s Gambit for poker.
The worst poker on TV and in the movies has a focus on competition. In a game where luck is a factor in the short run, the desire to win doesn’t work as motivation the way it does for Beth Harmon as a character.
In Rounders, Mike McDermott isn’t playing poker for the thrill of victory, he’s doing it cuz Teddy K.G.B. will break his legs if he doesn’t have the money for Worm’s debt. It’s that simple. And Spraggy is pointing the way.
If the final payoff, at the end of the story is acknowledged to have had a huge element of good fortune, the story isn't as compelling. The talented protagonist won simply because they ran good, despite their good play. But to ignore it betrays the heart and soul of the game.
— Spraggy (@spraggy) November 18, 2020
Featured image source: Twitter